A sense of place

There’s a theme in my life: the search for a place. Or a sense of place, at least. 

I’m always thinking about where I’ll be when I finally land where I will be. You see the problem: this is inherently circular.

Where will I be when I’m there?

There, I guess.

But where is that?

Where I’ll be. 


I long for it. I get wistful walking through pleasing neighborhoods. When I like one particularly I visit it frequently, lurking around with longing. Most recently it’s the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of DC, which occasionally still gets away with styling itself a “village.”

It’s leafy. That’s the major thing. I think I could thrive anywhere if the trees are big and green around me. And it has that lived-in feeling, especially right now when the weather is abnormally good. It’s all people gardening, sitting on stoops drinking iced tea and shouting kindly with their neighbors from a safe distance. There are lots of Little Free Libraries, which I’m getting better about not automatically laying hands on. And I imagine the insides of the houses: tasteful art, comfortable couches for reading in, dappled natural light from the backyard, which I imagine is similarly leafy and has great places to sit as warm twilight comes on. 

It’s not even so much that I want to be there; it’s that I want to be the kind of person I imagine I would instantly become if I were there. Relaxed, capacious. I’d read during the daytime, rather than just for five or ten minutes with eyes half-closed at bedtime. I’d probably know my neighbors, invite each other over for tea, that kind of thing. I’d take up crafting.

Why this longing? I’ve moved a lot over the last 14 years, not only between apartments but also states, from coast to coast and halfway in between. Depending on how you count, it’s somewhere between 16 times (unique top-level street addresses) and 25 times (every time I moved all my stuff from one room or apartment to another). That’s…bonkers.

And in all these moves, I’ve clung to a sense of the temporary. This is just for now. This is just in these weird circumstances. There’s never been a decision of ah, this is forever.

That’s what I see in my lurk-walks through leafy places. The dream of finally being the sort of person who goes ah, this is forever. 

Or, because we know that God laughs when we make plans/sweeping statements, at least “ah, this is not actively temporary. I will not sabotage my happiness by keeping one foot in and one foot out.”

That’s the dream. More to come. 

Forestalling my execution

A little while ago (roughly 40 or 50 years by the feel of it, but under a month in clock time) I decided to post here once a day for as long as quarantine/lockdown/shelter-in-place/stay-at-home/whatever lasts. This has been fun for me, and good practice, but also a little frantic. Sometimes I wake up with ideas, and many days I don’t. I’m keeping a head start with a decent backlog of little stubs I can expand into posts.

Well, I have that backlog for now. My brain (ever the asshole) keeps piping up to ask: “What if you suddenly run out? What if you find yourself one day with nothing to say?”

(Note that my brain is less concerned with me having nothing interesting to say, because that particular fear ship has sailed).

This feels like a pretty mundane version of the plight of Scheherazade, who forestalled her execution by prolonging her storytelling. Did she also wake up every morning seeing “add to the story and don’t get executed” on her to-do list, and break into a cold sweat? Did she ever know that she had, say, 235 more nights of material ready to go, but wonder what would happen on night 236? 

The differences, of course, between me and Scheherazade are that I’m the one who required my daily post, rather than a murderous king. Also, unlike the execution hanging over her head, there are absolutely no negative repercussions if I skip a day. But apart from that, the comparison is ironclad.

All that’s happening here is that my old friend, the scarcity voice, has pulled up a chair. Yes, we have enough for now, but what about when we don’t?

To which the only response is a hair flip and a glib “what about it?” and then one must lace up one’s tennis shoes and go for a walk. 

Napping at the finish line

A confession: I’m letting Book Two, just a poor little baby manuscript, suffer. She’s been an estimated 90% done for about four months now, and I just cannot bring myself to do that last 10%. That almost certainly means there’s something wrong with what I think the last 10% should be, because that’s what books do when they’re trying to stop you from ruining them. But I can’t even bring myself to do the work to find out what it is that needs fixing.

Maybe the problem is that I doomed her from the beginning. I started her off saying that I didn’t care how she turned out; that she was just practice; that I didn’t expect to do anything with her no matter how she turned out. Upon reflection, what an unkind way to treat an idea. What would Liz Gilbert say? 

I mean (for effect, pretend I’m contorting myself into a classic observational-comedy standup pose, leaning wryly on a mic stand) talk about “kill your darlings!” For what I said about this little book they oughta lock me up and call me a murderer!

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FOMO in the time of content

We live in Peak Content. It’s a time of an ever-shifting, ravenously demanding zeitgeist. After all, do you want to see your grandchildren’s faces when you told them that you slept right through the Golden Age of Television without fully appreciating it? I think not.

But on top of Peak Content (please sing that phrase to the tune of “On Top of Old Smoky”), we’re also now in lockdown or stay-at-home or shelter-in-place or quarantine or whatever we’re deciding to call it. And I’m noticing that a lot of Content is requesting even more of my attention.

From every corner of Instagram and Facebook, every friend group, every streaming service, every book seller, every website, every podcast, come siren songs: “Join me in your idleness! Attend to my whole back catalog! Log on as I go live every evening for a half hour! For two hours! Read a long book with the local library on Zoom! Watch a movie live with Diane Rehm!* After all, you have a lot of time right now!”

*To my knowledge this has not been offered yet, but I preemptively accept.

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I might be wrong about antique stores.

I get sad in antique stores.

It’s not that I don’t like old stuff; in fact, I’m a huge cheesy fan of it, generally. But something about antique stores depresses me. I can’t stop thinking along one of two tracks: either I get overwhelmed at the massive glut of stuff that just continues to exist, oceans of kitsch upon kitsch, from decade after decade, and this crap is the cream of the crop! Masses of useless material, flotsam crowding the tide of the Earth. 

(That’s in a bad antique store).

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Is “later” now?

Exhibit A: I used to take all kinds of things from the law school cafeteria in my pockets. Tea bags, an uneaten half of a bagel, single-serving peanut butters, fruit. This was technically not allowed, but the thrill was worth the risk. My little law-school dorm room desk filled up with crumpled tea bags I kept on hand in case of any caffeine emergencies. Just to have. For later. 

“For later” has haunted me for a long time. 

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Feeling that.

“And where do you feel that in your body?”

I had been describing some feeling, some anxiety, some distress of some now-forgotten variety, to my spiritual director. At the time, I’m sure I wanted her to respond with either “You’re wrong; just think about it this way and it’ll all be fine, dummy” or “You’re completely right; everything is hopeless.”

But instead, she came back with this completely puzzling question: where do you feel that in your body?

My immediate reaction was to want to say: “In my head, where my brain lives, because that’s where my synapses happen,” but I figured that might sound pretty condescending. Plus, can I really feel my synapses? I’m not sure how I’d know. 

So, slightly more politely, I asked for clarification. 

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Spring sounds

As I’m guessing you’ve noticed, the world has gone a little quieter. This is one of the blessings popping up like stubborn shoots in the chaos.

Here’s another:


If you, like me, find noises in general objectionable, now is a great time to open a window and listen. The birds are going absolutely bonkers. Are they always, this time of year? Probably, but now there are fewer cars and trains and crowds to drown them out. Maybe it gives their tiny ears a break, too. 

(Excuse me for a second while I Google “do birds have ears.” This is a well-researched operation, folks.)

Just now there is one making a bona fide ruckus somewhere outside. It’s echoing off the buildings. I’m very proud of her, whoever she is, screaming out her cause. 

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A study in solitude

Coming to you live from this confusing crisis. By the day and the hour it’s expanding while our lives are contracting, staying home if we are able, avoiding our communities.

This isolation is absolutely for the best. It’s also hard, surprisingly hard, even for a confirmed introvert who often craves more unstructured quiet time alone, and whose ongoing bout with walking pneumonia should have made her very accustomed to working from home, resting, and avoiding exposure.

But there’s a problem, reader. I need routine. Badly.

The first day of resting with my pneumonia saw me pulling all the books off my shelves to arrange them in some non-librarian-approved order. This was exhausting. But it wasn’t to last. Before too long, I was binge-watching Love is Blind on Netflix late into the night while my eyes and brain turned to compost, no doubt wondering what they’d done to deserve this fate.

Without a bit of structure, I turn into a listless puddle of a person. I forget to brush my teeth until dinner. I don’t put on real clothes. I play Civilization VI, turn after turn after turn, unable to stop, until I get genuinely depressed.

The self-quarantine we’re all doing will be this kind of structureless time on steroids, and the situation is making me anxious for people I love and for people I don’t even know. The anxiety makes the puddle-self grow even puddlier. If I don’t change my ways, I may achieve many types of victory on Civ, but at what cost?

I need to meet myself somewhere, not just watch myself melt through my own fingers for the duration. However long the duration of this turns out to be.

So. I have a plan. Due to overwhelming demand,* I will be posting something here every day until…someday.

The thing is, in spite of the listlessness and my recent aversion to writing and my general slide into feeling as though I have no bones or muscles at all, I’ve been on a bit of a tear when it comes to ideas. Early this morning I started listing things I want to write about, and there were a few dozen that came up.

An interesting side effect of listing these ideas out, and committing to writing one a day, is that I’m forced to wonder what life will be like 11 days from now, when I might be writing something my audience has been clamoring for (my thoughts on various conspiracy theories.)*

So, watch this space, if you wish. I’ll see you tomorrow. But finally, some words for solitude from the wonderful Henri Nouwen:

Solitude is not a solution. It is a direction…Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

*’twas I who demanded it

*the clamor is all from me

Me and my pneumonia, walking at our pace

For the last several weeks, I’ve had company everywhere I go (which, for reasons that will soon become evident, has not been many places). Walking pneumonia. Sounding like a cross between an exotic, possibly sentient, plant and some sort of CDC PSA, it’s not very interesting. It’s the sort of illness where there’s not much to say or do about it. You’re just sick for a while. You have pneumonia in your lungs, for a while. You have little energy and little appetite. You have a low fever, on and off, for a while. You cough it out. There’s no cure or secret to it, as far as I can tell.

I keep thinking it’s over, but the reports of my restored health have been greatly exaggerated. It just keeps coming back in the form of unpleasant fevers after a few days of activity. This sends me back to slug mode, barely leaving the house and infrequently putting on real pants.

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